#FineArtFriday: A Guardroom by Abraham Teniers

I have often said that to write about medieval and pre-industrial revolution societies, you must go to art to get the facts. This painting, attributed to Abraham Teniers, is a symbolic piece showing the transience of life and the certainty of death.

He shows us a guardroom. Abraham Teniers served as a captain of the local civil militia of Antwerp and was fond of painting guardroom scenes.

This particular scene is intriguing to me, because of the way the jumble of disjointed metal armor completely dominates the painting. In the foreground, in the light, we see flintlock pistols, muskets, breast plates, leg guards, vambraces, a drum, swords and other steel weaponry, and several helmets—all cast into a corner.

Almost unnoticed in the background, peasant soldiers are shown smoking and drinking before a fireplace. They are deliberately kept in the background of the picture, an allegory for the fleetingness of life.

The armor depicted in the two pictures was of a style no longer in use at the time it was painted. Metal armor was falling out of use by the time Abraham Teniers was born. Plate had lost its effectiveness as guns became the weaponry of choice. It is the allegory representing death.

Abraham is not the most famous of the Teniers family, but he was a talented and skilled painter. In this scene, he makes good use of chiaroscuro, strong contrasts between light and dark.

About the artist (from Wikipedia):

Abraham Teniers (1 March 1629 – 26 September 1670) was a Flemish painter and engraver who specialized in genre paintings of villages, inns and monkey scenes. He was a member of artist family Teniers which came to prominence in the 17th century. He was also active as a publisher. He was responsible for the publication of the Theatrum Pictorium (‘Theatre of Paintings’), the project initiated by his brother David to make a set of engravings of the entire art collection of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm.

Like his brother David before him, Abraham found appreciation at the court in Brussels and the art-loving Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria – then the governor of the Southern Netherlands and a resident of Brussels – appointed him as court painter.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Abraham Teniers – Een wachtlokaal, 1 (Prado).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Abraham_Teniers_-_Een_wachtlokaal,_1_(Prado).jpg&oldid=267098550 (accessed January 3, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “Abraham Teniers,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Abraham_Teniers&oldid=871305163 (accessed January 3, 2019).

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What we can learn from midlist books #amwriting

As part of my ongoing quest to improve my writing skills, I have been reading a series of novels written by a midlist author (whom I am not going to name), trying to decipher what it that I like about her work and what I don’t like.

Midlist is a term used by the traditional publishing industry referring to books that aren’t bestsellers, but which sell enough to justify their publication. If these authors can build a consistent sales record, the big publishers will probably want future books from that author.

Most books published today are midlist titles. Bestsellers earn the largest portion of overall royalties, but midlist novels are steady earners over a long period, and many of these authors have devoted fans.

So, I have been binge-reading this series of mystery novels, trying to decide why she sells enough to keep her publisher buying her books, and in the process,  I have figured out why she’s not a bestseller. I have come up with a list of strengths and shortcomings, things I can look for in my own work.

The positives:

  • Her plots tend to be intriguing. She is creative with her murders and doesn’t rely on cliché situations.
  • She knows how to sink a hook. The details of how and why each of the murders are discovered is interesting, and at the beginning, logical, so you keep reading.
  • She has good skills in world building. The ethnicity of the immigrant Armenian neighborhood feels solid, as if you know it well.
  • The main characters reveal themselves slowly. They have an air of mystery around them. You never feel like you know all there is to know about them.

The negatives:

  • Her books tend to follow a formula that is recognizably hers, which is why she can put out four novels a year. In that regard, they are like romance novels. Once you’ve read the first three in the series, you know the basic story line.
  • They’re not memorable in any way. The one thing that keeps you reading is curiosity to discover who out of the many possibilities actually did it.
  • Toward the middle and the second half, the story arc becomes jerky, at times almost flatlining. The eye wants to skip pages.
  • Then suddenly, it’s so chaotic it’s impossible to follow what just happened, and no matter how many times you go back and re-read it, you can’t understand what is going on.
  • References to habits, such as obsessive chain smoking, start out doing the intended job, conveying a personality. But these references soon become repetitive, over-used, inadvertent crutches.
  • Her political and technological references place these books firmly in a certain period – a double-edged sword. The political references are the biggest Achilles heel. She began writing the series in in the early nineties. Publishing schedules being as slow as they are, these references immediately made the books feel slightly out of date, rather than set in an era.
  • By book three, the Main Character hasn’t grown or evolved. They’re still locked firmly in their own time-warp.
  • Her publisher misses a lot of proofing errors. This is every indie’s nightmare, so it’s annoying to find so many flaws in a book by a reputable publisher.

In retrospect, I like this author’s work, but certain of her writing habits annoy me as a reader. So, why have I subjected myself to reading so many of her books if I’m so ambivalent about them?

Education.

We all know what we love when we see it. But unless we out-and-out hate something, being able to identify what we don’t love is sometimes difficult.

And this concept is especially true about our own work. Those of us whose vocation is writing fiction must work to ensure our voice and writing style is current and fresh. It is a quest that can take a lifetime and involves more than just reading “How to Write This or That Aspect of a Novel” manuals. Books on craft are important, but they only offer up a part of the picture.

You must read widely, and outside your favorite genre. This is why I study how books in all genres, both good and bad, are constructed.

When you come across authors whose work shocks, rocks, and shakes you, study them. What did you love? What did they do right and how can you incorporate those techniques into your work?

When you don’t like a novel, ask yourself why it failed to move you. What did the author do wrong and how could you write it better?

Read widely, dissect what you read, and then apply what you’ve learned to your own work.

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Update and Resolutions for 2019 #amwriting

Here in the Pacific Northwest, the year of 2018 is enjoying its last hurrah. People are getting ready for parties and counting both their successes and failures. It has been an eventful year for both my family and my writing life, so I am looking forward to what 2019 will bring.

My quest to complete the three-book literary fantasy series, Billy’s Revenge, will finally come to an end. Julian Lackland is on the home stretch and will go to the editor on February 1st. Depending on how quickly that goes, he will be published in June. Julian began life as my first NaNoWriMo Novel in 2010 and was picked up by a small press. Unfortunately, that didn’t go well.

It has taken me eight years to undo the damage they did and get this manuscript into proper shape. Julian Lackland is why I have been on this quest to educate myself about the craft of writing. I wanted to give Julian the kind of book he deserves, and judging by my beta readers’ comments, the effort has been worth it.

I am also closing in on finishing the first draft of a new duology set in Neveyah, the Tower of Bones world. One of the things I learned when I was trying to finish Valley of Sorrows, is that readers who begin a series want the next book in a timely fashion. They might wait a year, but after that, they will forget about it. It takes me four years to get a book from concept to publication, which can be a problem.

What I am doing differently with Alf’s story is this: I’m writing the first draft of the entire story arc before I begin revisions on the first book. So, this means I am writing a 250,000 word manuscript. Only when the entire first draft is finished will I begin the editing process. The manuscript will be broken in half and published as a duology, hopefully six months apart, assuming that editing goes smoothly when we get to that stage.

I am also finishing the stand-alone book that was begun as a serial in 2015, Bleakbourne on Heath. I have approximately 20,000 words left to write before it goes to the editor. Leryn’s story was so much fun to write. I had never done a serial, and unfortunately, I soon discovered I couldn’t keep up the daunting schedule I had set for getting my installments published. It was like “live television.” Whenever I sat down to write a chapter, I had no idea what was going to happen next.

One day I realized I had reached a creative plateau and had no idea how to finish the damned thing. Some people consider that writer’s block, but not me. When I can’t think of a way to advance a particular story, it’s time to rein it in and put it aside for a while to work on something else. So, I wrote a wedding scene, and ended the serial on a happy note, winding up most of the threads, but with the main quest still unfinished.

Last year was a good year for short stories, some of which found good homes in forthcoming anthologies. Also, two of my poems were selected for publication in the I Hear Olympia Singing poetry anthology and were chosen as the opening verses. I survived my first live poetry reading and met some amazing people in the process. Yay for that!

Despite cutting back on my professional editing schedule, I was privileged to edit several wonderful books for my clients—what a joy that aspect of my life is. I can’t completely drop out of that part of this business, as I love working with my clients, helping them to realize the vision they originally had for their book.

My resolutions for 2019 are to publish at least one novel, have a second one either published by the end of the year or ready to go in 2020, finish the first draft of my duology, and continue to write short stories and poetry, and continue to edit for my private clients.

I will keep writing new words every day, and I will remain involved in the local writing community. That connection with other writers feeds my creativity, offers me a sounding board, and keeps me working with good people who will read for me and show me what needs to be rewritten.

Thank you for being a part of my writing life. May the new year bring you good fortune, good food, and good friends. May the new year bring us all inspiration and determination—the two most important gifts a writer could have.


Credits and Attributions

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Dirck Hals – Musicians – WGA11043.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Dirck_Hals_-_Musicians_-_WGA11043.jpg&oldid=253948561 (accessed December 31, 2018).

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#FineArtFriday: Tavern with a pair of dancers by David Teniers II

About the Artist, from Wikipedia:

David Teniers II was known as a hard worker who was extremely prolific. About two thousand paintings are thought to have been painted by the artist. He was extremely versatile and tried his hand at all the genres then practiced in Flanders including history, genre, landscape, portrait and still life.

Teniers is particularly known for developing the peasant genre, the tavern scene and scenes with alchemists and physicians. He also painted many religious scenes among which stand out his many compositions treating the subjects of the Temptation of St Anthony and hermit saints in grottoes or deserts.

A major influence on David Teniers the Younger’s early work was the work of the Flemish painter Adriaen Brouwer.

The personal style of Teniers was visible from the outset. An important distinction was that, unlike Brouwer who placed these genre scenes mainly indoors, Teniers gradually moved his scenes into the open air and started to give the landscape a major place in his work from the 1640s. This was a common development in Flemish painting at the time. The smoky and monochrome tonality of the interiors from the 1630s was replaced by a luminous, silvery atmosphere, in which the peasants sit at their ease, conversing or playing cards. These paintings show a radical move towards a more positive attitude towards country life and the peasantry than was reflected in his earlier satirical pieces influenced by Brouwer.

In the 18th century, Parisian collectors eagerly competed to lay their hands on Teniers’ works. They knew the artist chiefly for his idealized scenes of rural life, paintings of village feasts, interiors with peasants and guardroom scenes. Teniers’ work was very much admired by French painters of that time.


Credits and Attributions

“Tavern with a pair of dancers” by David Teniers II. Oil on canvas. Munich, Germany. Bavarian State Picture Gallery via Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:David Teniers II Taverna s paroi Tanz (1645).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:David_Teniers_II_Taverna_s_paroi_Tanz_(1645).jpg&oldid=222921557 (accessed December 28, 2018).

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Christmas at the Drunken Sasquatch, revisited #amwriting

Merry Christmas from my home to yours. Today is Boxing day—and I have no post ready for today. In the words of Bob Cratchit, we were making rather merry yesterday. So, I thought I would reprise a short story that was written and first posted in 2016, Christmas at the Drunken Sasquatch. It features one of my favorite characters, Dan Dragonsworthy, a man who has taken on a life of his own and is getting another story this year. So now, live from the Other Side of Seattle, I bring you everyone’s favorite were-dragon and Christmas at the Drunken Sasquatch. As I said last year, no vampires were harmed in the making of this tale.


Vampires have a sick sense of humor, especially Alfredo, although he pretends to be cultured. Just over a year ago he got me banned from here, by switching my orange juice for an orange soda… that dirty trick was more than embarrassing. Covering the cost of the damages to the scorched floor, replacing the furniture, and buying Sylvia Wannamaker a new coat ate into my hoard quite heavily.

Worst of all, I was banned from participating in November’s pool tournament.

However, I’m a were-dragon. We like our revenge served up cold and well calculated.

The anniversary of my disgrace has passed, which would have been the obvious day for me to seek retribution. Most people have forgotten the whole incident.

But not me.

I know I look like any other old has-been reporter—I’m still hanging in there, digging up the political dirt in Seattle with the best of them, and I know I tend to go on and on about the glory days. While that observation isn’t real flattering, it’s true. I drink more orange juice than is good for either of my livers, and I hang out here at the Drunken Sasquatch because I have nowhere else to go.

I don’t discuss it for obvious reasons, but during my years in the Middle East, Dan Dragonsworthy was far more than just a flying battle wagon. I spent a lot of time on covert missions, and one thing I learned was how to be patient, and how to spot the chinks in your opponent’s armor.

I’ve been watching Alfredo since New Year’s Eve when Bloody Bill finally lifted my punishment and allowed me back. I don’t intend to harm the old blood-sucker, but I’m going to give him a taste of his own medicine. I’m a reporter—I know for a fact there are substances vampires shouldn’t ingest, and Alfredo may have forgotten that.

A vampire tripping on chocolate is bad for everyone. I’d never do that, especially to Alfredo. Fortunately, they don’t like the flavor of it. However, they do have a passion for maraschino cherries, which can cause problems for the weaker willed vampire since those fruity morsels of goodness are frequently found wrapped in dark chocolate. With one exception, the smart ones don’t succumb to temptation inside the Drunken Sasquatch, because Bloody Bill won’t tolerate that sort of behavior.

Most importantly for my purposes, vampires can’t tolerate coffee. On tiny amounts, they tend to pee themselves copiously, which the rest of us find hilarious. Vampires get quite huffy when their vampiric dignity is besmirched.

As if MY dignity meant nothing to me.

When you want to impress Alfredo, you buy him a jar of the special maraschino cherries from Italy, made with the best cherry liqueur. He can smell maraschino liqueur from anywhere in the room and, being a vampire, he lacks a conscience.

No maraschino is safe from Alfredo.

The annual Christmas party and the gift exchange drives him mad. Every witch, wizard, or elf has a recipe for that most wonderful of traditional holiday treats, maraschino chocolate cordials. These kind friends are always generous with their gifts to those of us who lack their magical culinary skills.

It’s more than his old vampire heart can stand, and despite having received his own jars of cherries sans-chocolate, he takes incredible risks.

I’ll give Alfredo credit—he’s good. I’ve watched him sneak up behind Grandma and suck the cherries out of a box of cordials without getting his fangs dirty. She suspected it was him, but could never prove it. Fangs do leave holes, but it could have been any vampire.

It takes a brave (or desperate) vampire to mess with Grandma. I’d tell you to ask the Big Bad Wolf, but you can’t.

She’s wearing him.

So, anyway, last week, Grandma and I had a chat. I got on the internet and ordered the finest ingredients. They were delivered the day before yesterday, and she immediately got busy in the kitchen.

This year, one unattended box of cordials under the tree at the Drunken Sasquatch will have cherries in liqueur with unique centers. This particular batch will be vampire safe—no chance of accidental hallucinations here. Grandma created white-chocolate shells filled with Cherry brandy, with a maraschino cherry floating in the middle.

However, each cherry will be filled with a special coffee liqueur .

It will be a joy to watch Alfredo try to deny his culpability in this year’s draining of the maraschinos as the evidence spreads around his feet.

I hope vampire pee isn’t too acidic, although I’ve heard the stench is an excellent Zombie repellent, and no matter how you scrub, it’s impossible to get rid of the odor. Sylvia Wannamaker swears by it in a diluted form as a slug repellent in the garden, as using it there will turn your hydrangeas the brightest blue. They don’t make good cut flowers though, as they smell too bad to keep in the house.

I’m sure a pool of vampire urine won’t be as dangerous for the innocent bystanders as when he caused me to inadvertently belch fire in close quarters.

Come the day after this year’s Christmas party at the Drunken Sasquatch (even though his cash outlay won’t come near matching the damages I had to pay when he slipped me the Mickey) at least Alfredo will be out the cost of a new pair of boots. And if he can’t find a good dry cleaner, he’ll be out the cost of replacing that gaudy, lace-trimmed, purple velvet suit he thinks is so stylish.

Grandma and I are both looking forward to this year’s party. Christmas could just become my favorite holiday.


Credits and Attributions:

Christmas at the Drunken Sasquatch, © 2016-2018 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved. Originally published 02 December 2016, on  Life in the Realm of Fantasy.

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#FineArtFriday on a Monday: Vintage Christmas Card, by Jenny Nystrom

Merry Christmas from my home to yours! The above image is a quintessential Swedish Christmas card, illustrated by Jenny Nystrom, (1854 – 1946).

Jenny Eugenia Nyström (13 or 15 June 1854 in KalmarSweden – 17 January 1946 in Stockholm) was a painter and illustrator  who is mainly known as the person who created the Swedish image of the jultomte on numerous Christmas cards and magazine covers, thus linking the Swedish version of Santa Claus to the gnomes of Scandinavian folklore. [1]

While in Paris, she discovered the booming postcard market, and tried to persuade the Swedish publishing house Bonnier to start producing postcards, but they declined. Lille Viggs äventyr på julafton (“Little Vigg’s Adventures on Christmas Eve”), written by the author Viktor Rydberg inspired Jenny Nyström. She made drawings accompanying this tale. Viktor Rydberg saw them and suggested the Bonniers publishing company to release the book. After they declined, publisher S. A. Hedlund released it in 1871. The short Christmas tale for all ages was widely printed and has since become a Christmas classic in Sweden. Jenny Nyström eventually became Sweden’s most productive painter and illustrator. For many years, her illustrations were distributed by Strålin & Persson AB in Falun .


Credits and Attributions

Wikipedia contributors, “Jenny Nyström,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jenny_Nystr%C3%B6m&oldid=837676901 (accessed December 24, 2018).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Nystrom God-Jul 21.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Nystrom_God-Jul_21.jpg&oldid=260790882 (accessed December 24, 2018).

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#FineArtFriday: A Christmas Carol, revisited

Today’s images are two illustrations by John Leech from the first edition of A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens,  published in book form in 1843.  The body of this post first appeared here on Dec, 23, 2015. This is the first time I have included the original art of John Leech, which Dickens himself chose to include in the book.

From Wikipedia: John Leech (29 August 1817 – 29 October 1864 in London) was a British caricaturist and illustrator.[1] He is best known for his work for Punch, a humorous magazine for a broad middle-class audience, combining verbal and graphic political satire with light social comedy. Leech catered to contemporary prejudices, such as anti-Americanism and antisemitism and supported acceptable social reforms. Leech’s critical yet humorous cartoons on the Crimean War help shape public attitudes toward heroism, warfare, and Britons’ role in the world.[2][3]

Four of John Leech’s etchings were included in the first edition of A Christmas Carol.


Another Christmas is about to join the Ghosts of Christmas Past–although, until December 26th, it is still the Ghost of Christmas Present. And as always, I want to talk about my favorite Christmas story of all time, A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens was a master when it came to creating marvelous hooks and using heavy foreshadowing. Let’s have a look at the first lines of this tale:

“Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.”

In that first paragraph, Dickens  tosses out the bait, sinking the hook, and landing the fish (the reader) by foreshadowing the first plot point of the story–the visitation by Marley’s ghost. We want to know why Marley’s definite state of decay was so important that the conversation between you the reader, and Dickens the author, was launched with that topic.

He picks it up and does it again several pages later, with the little scene involving the door-knocker, where Scrooge sees the face of his late business partner superimposed over the knocker.

At this point we’ve followed Scrooge through several scenes introducing the subplots. We have met the man who, as yet, is named only as ‘the clerk’ in the original manuscript, but whom we will later know to be Bob Cratchit, and we’ve met Scrooge’s nephew, Fred.

These subplots are critical, as our man Scrooge’s redemption revolves around the ultimate resolution of these two separate mini-stories–he must witness the joy and love in Cratchit’s family, who are suffering but happy in the midst of grinding poverty for which Scrooge bears a responsibility. We see that his nephew, Fred, though orphaned is well off in his own right, but craves a relationship with his uncle with no thought or care of what he might gain from it financially.

All the characters are in place. We’ve seen the city, cold and dark, with danger lurking in the shadows. We’ve observed the way Scrooge interacts with everyone around him, strangers and acquaintances alike. Now we come to the first plot point in Dickens’ story arc–Marley’s visitation. This is where the set-up ends and the story begins to take off.

I love tales of redemption–and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens remains one of the most beloved tales of redemption in the Western canon. Written in  1843 as a serialized novella, A Christmas Carol continues to inspire adaptations, in both movies and books.

This is a short tale, but it is a deeply moving allegory of the Christian concept of redemption that remains pertinent in modern society.

In this tale, Dickens asks you to recognize the plight of those whom the Industrial Revolution has displaced and driven into poverty, and the obligation of society to provide for them humanely. This is a concept our society continues to struggle with, and perhaps will for a long time to come.

It is that deep, underlying call for compassion that resonates down through the centuries, a call that is, unfortunately, timeless.


Credits and Attributions:

The Art of Foreshadowing: Charles Dickens, first appeared here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy, on Dec. 23, 2015.

Wikipedia contributors, “John Leech (caricaturist),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=John_Leech_(caricaturist)&oldid=871947694 (accessed December 21, 2018).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Christmascarol1843 — 040.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Christmascarol1843_–_040.jpg&oldid=329166198 (accessed December 21, 2018)

A colourised edit of an engraving of Charles Dickens’ “Ghost of Christmas Present” character, by John Leech in 1843. Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Ghost of Christmas Present John Leech 1843.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Ghost_of_Christmas_Present_John_Leech_1843.jpg&oldid=329172654 (accessed December 21, 2018).

 

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Stormy Weather #amwriting

Today is one of the darkest days so far this winter. As I write this, it’s noon, but the sun struggles to penetrate the gloom. Wind-driven rain bullets pound at the windows and all I want to do is hibernate. The wind howls around my house, seeming like a living thing.

I am warm and snug and wrapped in a cozy, fleece-lined blanket, with a cup of hot tea in my hands. I sit with my eyes closed, imagining warmer places, lands where the sun shines every day, and a gentle rain only falls in the small hours before dawn.

Yep. I write fantasy.

This post was supposed to be about world building. I could probably look out my window and tell you what my world looks and feels like. I’d intended to show you how the rain and murkiness make the world seem two-dimensional, a study in shades of gray. I wanted you to feel the cold and damp working its way inside your hood, making walking to the store a misery. I should  warn you, though. Today is a bad day to walk anywhere. Flying branches and airborne trashcans might make your walk…an adventure.

Had we gone through the exercise that was planned, I would have asked you to talk to the friendly golden Labrador who lives inside the fenced yard on the corner and reassure him that his owner will indeed come home after work. The poor dog is doubtful, awash with separation anxiety despite the fact his owner has never failed to return.

But no.

I don’t think I will write a blog post today. Instead, I’m going to sit in my favorite chair and read. And when I put the book down for a moment, I will remember how warm the breezes of Oahu were, how different from my cold, dark, inland home. I’m going to think of Waikiki and mojitos at Duke’s Canoe Club. Sitting on the beach afterward and feeling the softness of golden sand against my bare feet. How gentle the surf seemed during our stay there, as compared to the chill of the wild North Pacific as it crashes into the Washington coast.

I’m going to remember the exhilaration of snorkeling in Hanauma Bay. The pictures didn’t do it justice, but it shines in my memory. And the next day? How do I show you the incredulous joy of sitting on a North Shore beach and being visited by giant tortoises?

Instead of being visited by thunder and lighting.

The storms may swirl and rage outside my house, but I am warm and cozy. I have orange spice tea to keep me warm and the memories of warmer places and gentler breezes to keep me company.


Credits and Attributions:

The Plaza After Rain, Paul Cornoyer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Waikiki Beach by Helen Whitney Kelley, c. 1900 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Logic and the Deus Ex Machina #amwriting

I write fantasy novels, but I also write contemporary fiction.  All fiction, literary as well as fantasy, requires world building and a certain amount of planning as any novel or short story must have a logical story arc. Without a fundamental logic to the events, the reader can’t suspend their disbelief.

NaNoWriMo is prime “pantsing it” time. For those who don’t know that term, “pantsing” is writer-speak for “flying by the seat of your pants.” I always begin by writing to an outline, but in the mad rush to the finish, my story goes in directions I never planned for.

I outline in advance because (when writing in any genre) if you are pantsing your way through a story that encompasses 75,000 to 100,000 words, it is easy to get involved in large info dumps and bunny trails to nowhere. A loose outline will tell you what must happen next to arrive at the end of the book with a logical story set in a solidly designed world.

However, I’ve never yet written a story that stuck strictly to the original outline.

Characters develop lives and personalities of their own, and stuff happens that wasn’t planned for. When I finish the first draft, it always makes sense in my head, and I usually feel confident it can pass the logic test.

So, what is the logic test? Once you have the first draft written, let it sit for a few weeks, then come back to it. If I was smart, during my writing process I made notes where the scenes began deviating from the outline.

Screen writers have it right, so the layout of my outline is divided into acts and beats, the same as a screenplay would be listed with a brief description.

Act One

  • Opening scene–characters in “normal” environment–/ Hook
  • Inciting Incident–characters thrown out of “normal” and into new circumstances.
  • End of the Beginning

Act Two takes up 50% of the novel—it is the second quarter and third quarter combined.

  • Pinch Point #1
  • Midpoint
  • Pinch Point #2
  • Crisis

Act Three

  • Climax
  • Final resolution

Each section has a brief description of what occurs there, such as:

Act Three, scene 1

  • Leave Hemsteck
  • First campsite, Alf /Ronan talk. Dex overhears.

If I have made notes of my changes to the story line, I have a guide showing me what those changes were. I know where to go back and check to make sure the events are foreshadowed logically, and not a clumsy Deus Ex Machina. (Pronounced: Day-us ex Mah-kee-nah.) (God from the Machine.)

This is a plot twist that is used to miraculously resolve an issue. (Miraculous is the key word.) A Deus Ex Machina occurs when, toward the end of the narrative, an author inserts a new event, character, ability, or otherwise resolves a seemingly insoluble problem in a sudden, unexpected way.

So, let’s consider an indie novel I tried to read a week ago and didn’t finish. I was in the mood for a trashy  adventure/romance, and for the first few chapters, I was able to overlook some technical annoyances because the characters were hilarious. After thinking about it, I doubt the author intended it to be such a hilarious mockery of 19th century upper class mores, as everything was written so earnestly, so faux Charlotte Bronte.

The setting for the final incident that threw me out of the book completely is a grand ball at a Buckingham Palace. The main character, whom we just spent a chapter dressing in an excessive amount of detail, becomes involved in a quarrel. She draws her sword, and the fight is on.

Where did that weapon come from? Swords aren’t easy to conceal. It wasn’t part of the highly detailed scene where her maid was dressing her one layer at a time. Why was she wearing a sword at a formal event? Do all the ladies go armed at these events? If so, it should have been made a part of the choosing-the-gown scene. Give her a fancy scabbard to keep that handy  rival-stabber in, something that looks all bejeweled and goes with the outfit.

In late Regency/early Victorian times, officers wore ceremonial swords to formal events. Women were never armed openly. Any weapons they had would have been knives, poison, or pistols and would have been concealed, not hanging from their waist in a long scabbard. A pistol in her bodice would have almost logical. So, if you intend for her to draw her sword, there must be a logical reason for these men and women to be armed.

When I look back at my story’s outline, starting from the ending and working forward, does the characters’ journey to the final page make sense? If my characters must show up to a grand ball fully armed, it must be logical, a part of their culture.

Good writers don’t rely on miracles to ensure things work out to the main character’s advantage. They use logic and insert small clues and hints into the narrative, so the reader doesn’t feel cheated. To that end, I suggest keeping an updated outline of what happens in each scene.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Rembrandt – Rembrandt and Saskia in the Scene of the Prodigal Son – Google Art Project.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Rembrandt_-_Rembrandt_and_Saskia_in_the_Scene_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg&oldid=302686497 (accessed December 16, 2018).

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#FineArtFriday: Slindebirken Vinter by J. C. Dahl 1838

Slindebjørka or Slindebirken was a birch tree that stood at Inner Slinde in Sogn, Norway, until it was blown down in a storm in 1874. The tree was beloved, considered a Norwegian national treasure. People came from all over Western Norway to see the tree and picnic beneath its branches.

What I love about this painting is the personality embodied in the birch tree itself as Dahl depicts it. The tree stands proudly, offering a place for birds to rest. It seems to represent the Norwegian spirit of independence, taking what nature throws at it with humor and stoicism.

Dahl’s portrayal is powerful, showing the bent and bowed branches held high despite the barrenness of winter. The image shows a tree that intends to be there when spring comes, as do the people of the village it overlooks.

About the Artist (from Wikipedia)

Johan Christian Claussen Dahl (24 February 1788 – 14 October 1857), often known as J. C. Dahl or I. C. Dahl, was a Norwegian artist who is considered the first great romantic painter in Norway, the founder of the “golden age” of Norwegian painting, and one of the greatest European artists of all time.[1] He is often described as “the father of Norwegian landscape painting”[2] and is regarded as the first Norwegian Painter ever to reach a level of artistic accomplishment comparable to that attained by the greatest European artists of his day. He was also the first to acquire genuine fame and cultural renown abroad.[3] As one critic has put it, “J.C. Dahl occupies a central position in Norwegian artistic life of the first half of the 19th century.[4]

As a boy, Dahl was educated by a sympathetic mentor at the Bergen Cathedral who at first thought that this bright student would make a good priest, but then, recognizing his remarkably precocious artistic ability, arranged for him to be trained as an artist. From 1803 to 1809 Dahl studied with the painter Johan Georg Müller [no], whose workshop was the most important one in Bergen at the time. Still, Dahl looked back on his teacher as having kept him in ignorance in order to exploit him, putting him to work painting theatrical sets, portraits, and views of Bergen and its surroundings. Another mentor, Lyder Sagen, showed the aspiring artist books about art and awakened his interest in historical and patriotic subjects. It was also Sagen who took up a collection that made it possible for Dahl to go to Copenhagen in 1811 to complete his education at the academy there.

As important as Dahl’s studies at the academy in Copenhagen were his experiences in the surrounding countryside and in the city’s art collections. In 1812 he wrote to Sagen that the landscape artists he most wished to emulate were Ruisdahl and Everdingen, and for that reason he was studying “nature above all,” Dahl’s artistic program was, then, already in place: he would become a part of the great landscape tradition, but he would also be as faithful as possible to nature itself.


Credits and Attributions:

Slindebirken, Vinter by Johan Christian Dahl 1838 [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia contributors, “Johan Christian Dahl,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Johan_Christian_Dahl&oldid=866337453 (accessed December 14, 2018).

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